George Handlery / June 13, 2016

All Men Are Created Equal. (Well, Sort Of.)

Only a few beliefs receive more approval than the concept of the title. At the same time, few notions are more abused than this one.

All men might be equal at the moment of conception. Significant differences emerge once that point is passed. Mankind’s success, compared to that of all other creatures, comes from our resulting diversity. As humans and citizens we might be equal, however, once we begin to think, act, and use tools — from the hammer to the atom smasher — through our achievements we become different. Ergo, as members of the human race, we are sufficiently identical to support legal equality. Once we go beyond that, it is the emerging divergence that writes the success story of our kind.

Without these innate differences between individuals, our tribe would have remained a hairless omnivore limited to territories with mild climates. Among animals, it is the similarities that define the race. Between humans, the differences typify the kind.

Many ancient generations have walked past stones that had a sharp edge. One day, someone that differed from his fellows, saw the potential and put it to use. It took much time before another outstanding individual discovered that tools did not need to be found ready made by nature, but that they could be created by men.

The same process applies to all areas, ranging from tool-making, to science and philosophy and its political application. The motor of the progress that moved our successful kind to ever higher achievements have been individuals that differed from their fellows. The conclusion is that imposed equality that represses differences for the sake of “stability” means stagnation.

If the above holds water, then inequality is desirable, and wise systems will know how to exploit to their advantage that we are unequal. Progress, the betterment of the human condition, correlates with creatively unleashed inequality. As we know, an excessive amount of any medicine is a poison. Even so, a successful society allows and even nurtures inequality. Within limits this correlation — the unthinkingly lamented “Gini coefficient” that expresses inequality — must grow if the level of the average is to be raised. Note that unhindered innovation means that, while the average’s living standard rises, the innovators’ means will grow exponentially. Equalitarianism rejects the process by which most of us move from “2” to “3” because the source, the enterprising innovator leapfrogs from “2” to “4.” The practical consequence is that, equalitarian envy results in a worse-than-it-needs-to-be world for all.

Our differences, talents, and the inclination to pursue them, make us unique as persons. It is a distinguishing feature of each individual that his abilities, whatever their extent, are not equally divided among the many fields in which we can act. The divergent competences that flow from our differences make each of us one-sided.

The more advanced a civilization, the greater will be its resulting specialization. Deprived of cooperative interaction with our peers, we are unable to exist on the level we covet for ourselves. Fortunately, we have the ability to coordinate our talents to the advantage of all by constructing communities. Within these, the exchange of contributions becomes possible and is regulated — mainly, but not singularly, with the help of the market. Thereby the surgeon, the plumber, and the janitor can exchange what they do best and what their fellows need. It is this function of the social organization of individualities that explain why, acting according to our differences, is liberating and not anti social as fashionable collectivists plead.

Inequality is not only a given, but it also brings benefits. Inequality is not only natural, but it is also a positive force. Through its consequences, it results in a competitive advantage once different social models encounter each other.

Classical civilizations — that includes the West until the Enlightenment — have seen it as desirable to enforce the compliance of its subjects. The resulting repression of individuality claims the pursuit of “harmony.” To avoid discord that expresses disparity, conformity is elevated into a virtue as it is taken to prove the virtue of self-denial. The price of ritualized and enforced concord was stagnation. Once the modern world emerged, stagnation ceased to be a man-made “heaven” of cooperation and, being moribund, it muted into backwardness and humiliation. The distinguishing feature of the progressive order, derived from competition in the service of change, is personal freedom and unequally distributed material well-being.

This resulting “unequal distribution” of wealth, created in the context of a community, became a source of outrage. Society’s inevitable inadequacies have all been related to the allegedly negative consequences of inequality. As in Marxism, the perfect, conflict fee society, is depicted as achievable. Its realization is held to depend of the return to the equalitarian harmony of earlier times. Such schemes imply that equality can be restored, if only the cooperation of perfectible men would be achieved without the “original sin” of competition and the division of society’s wealth according to differently valued contributions.

The best way to lay the foundations of such a “just because equalitarian” order is to enshrine, as a governing principle, what makes men into cooperating brothers. So, Marxist emphasized a society consisting of one class, the Nazis used race, and assorted Fascists, the nation. A blend of these factors is frequent. Anyone taught about the “superior Soviet man” knows how class, race and ethnicity can be fused.

If differentiation is natural, then those systems that impose equality pursue an order that contradicts human nature. It is logical that an artificial order cannot be based upon a natural consensus, and so, it must resort to force to maintain itself. This creates a close tie between equalitarianism and dictatorship. Additionally, equality as a dogma will reduce productivity and — as in Venezuela — the upshot will be scarcity. Consequently, positive rewards being scarce, the resort to coercion will become inevitable. This is a reason why dogmatic equality and tyranny are intertwined.

To conclude: Diversity is a natural fact and inequality is its consequence. Attempting to make what is inherently different to conform to an artificial standard means that the individual must be squeezed. Doing so leads to a system of rule that, at best, cajoles, and at worst suppresses. Serfdom, in the service of the “more equal” that will administer such a system, sacrifices liberty on the altar of presumed equality. The result will ultimately undermine the economic base of the community and produce poverty. About poverty, we know that it is never equally shared. Inequality that recognizes diversity and which rewards, according to society’s concept of fairness (the willingness to pay), results in a fair system. This makes out of the collectivist allegation, that inequality is anti social, a well sounding tall tale.

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